Breeding will only go faster

Things are moving fast at Axia Vegetable Seeds. The company was
founded in 2011 and brought their first commercial variety on the market
in 2013. Up until now ten varieties have been introduced and thanks to
acquisitions, the breeder is also establishing itself in the Mediterranean
region.
Variety development
Last week Axia Vegetable Seeds opened the doors of their demo
greenhouse. On this occasion, Alois van Vliet told more about the
developments in the last years. Some considerable investments were
made: in an illuminated demo greenhouse, but also in technology to
speed up the breeding process. According to Alois, this speed is very
important. “If we can develop three generations per year against the
standard two, we can respond more quickly to market demand.”
Thanks to close collaboration with growers worldwide, the company can
reduce the distance to the market even further. “We have the breeders –
they opt for the genetically best choice. Growers focus more on the
perfect phenotype. By involving them both directly in the process of
breeding, we can find the right combination more quickly.”
Ten new varieties
In recent years this strategy yielded ten new varieties for Axia Vegetable
Seeds. “Two for the mainstream markets, two specialties, and two in the elite segment was our wish. Now we have ten, including five new ones.”
Does the company want to maintain this rapid pace? Michel de Winter
explains. “The question of course is whether a new variety is adequate.
We set high standards for ourselves, we do not want to introduce just for
the sake of introducing. There must be an improvement in vigor, in color
or taste. And of course the market must be ready for it.”

Breeding will only go faster 1

Cees Kortekaas, Alois van Vliet and Michel de Winter at the open day

Breeding will only go faster 2

Master chef Yuri Verbeek busy with the tomatoes of Axia Vegetable Seeds. He’s an old friend of Alois, but actually for a long time did not know much about the broad applications of vegetables. That really has changed now.

Still faster breeding
At Axia Vegetable Seeds they expect that due to the emergence of new
technologies, breeding will only go faster. “Gene editing”, Alois clarifies.
This is a way of genetic engineering other than with plant-based material.
The final result could have been achieved with classical breeding, only by
gene editing this goes much faster. “In the USA this is permitted, in the
Netherlands not yet. We expect this will happen here as well. That will
give breeding an enormous boost.” The company has entered into a
research project with Yale University, to keep abreast of developments.
“With this kind of technology, we might aim more at taste, ingredients and
health properties.”

International growth      
New varieties aren’t the only way business is growing. Worldwide, sales
to existing customers are expanding and at the same time new markets
are entered. “For the first time a Norwegian grower chose for our varieties
and in Russia we see the sales numbers in beef tomatoes rising.” And
then there are the acquisitions of the company. “Recently we acquired a
Turkish seed breeder, so that the breeding of tomatoes, peppers,
eggplants and cucumbers for the Mediterranean market can be started on
location. We are breeding in Sicily as well.” And, Alois reveals, at the
moment another acquisition in the Southern European market is to be
completed. Which company that is exactly, the men keep to themselves
for now. “Until payment has been made,” Alois laughs. “With this
acquisition we go to 155 employees. That is quite a difference over the
five we started with…”

Breeding will only go faster 3

A lot of attention for Xandor, Prunaxx and Axxy on the open day. Xandor is going to compete in large TOV. “Thanks to improved quality and a crop-technically more simple product, it can compete with the current varieties.” Then there is Axxy, a slightly coarser version in the middle section and a complement to Axiradius, which is specifically suited for the small packing. Finally also attention for Prunaxx, a plum tomato with the characteristic roma shape.

Breeding will only go faster 4

Something remarkable at the storage tests below left: tomatoes, grown without rootstock. “Ultimately, in the long run, we want the varieties to be strong enough to be grown without rootstock. It will get you a more uniform crop. At the moment it is mainly to learn something from it.”

Illuminated demo

All of this was discussed on the open day of the new illuminated demo greenhouse in Naaldwijk. “By now we see that over 30% of the Dutch tomato market has artificial lights”, Michel explains. “If you want to inform growers about the performances of a variety, you have to show it as well. Varieties may react very differently under light.”

An example of this is Maxxis. In traditional cultivation the variety was not very interesting. “But under lighting it actually works very well. Of course we can say this to growers, but we prefer them to have their own look.” To properly demonstrate the potential of the varieties, they are grown in the demo greenhouse in the same way as commercial growers would do it: at the cutting edge. “You will see a leaf edge here and there and we work with a high population of Macrolophus – as in practice. We prefer the variety to fail, over it looking perfect but not reflecting reality properly.” Under LED no breeding is done yet. “We do have trials at growers’ under LED, but the market is still too small for this now.”